Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Baby, Give Me a Sign

Violet has a lot to say. She’ll chatter animatedly to any available audience . . . she just doesn’t include many recognizable words in her conversation. At 17 months, her verbal vocabulary consists of "mama" and "dada," "hi," "baby," "no," and variations of "cat," "nose," "belly button," "cracker," "I see you," and "Casey" (her favorite friend). But she isn't limited in communicating by language - she can sign!

We started baby sign language with Violet when she was about 7 months old. Initially, we introduced just a few signs associated with her favorite activities: nursing and eating. She picked up the sign for “all done” first (waving her hands away from her body), providing a conclusion to mealtime we much preferred over the previous method of dumping whatever was left on the floor. Next, she added a sign for “drink,” adapting our example of a thumb to the lips to pointing with her index finger at her mouth while tilting her head back.

Other signs, like her sign for “nurse,” she created all on her own. I had been demonstrating a version of the sign for nurse that used a sweeping motion of a flat hand from the shoulder down over the breast, symbolizing letdown. Violet never picked up the sign I showed her, instead coming up with something entirely different: her sign for “nurse” is an index finger pointing into the middle of her opposite palm. Emphatically. It's similar to another version of the sign for "more" - which makes sense since nursing is the one thing she always wans to do more of - but ultimately what sign is used to represent any particular concept doesn’t matter as long as we know what she means.

Signing "sleep."

Recognizing and responding to your child’s needs is a fundamental principle of the AP philosophy; sign language provides our baby an additional tool for expressing those needs when she can’t find the words. It also allows her to tell us about what she’s observing and experiencing – signing “dog” when we pass one on the sidewalk or hear barking outside, signing “hot” to describe her dinner as steam rises off the plate.

Violet has about 20 signs in her regular repertoire now, and she makes good use of each of them. We continue to show her signs for common objects or things she shows a special interest in, letting her decide which she wants to add to her “vocabulary.” Even as she can speak more words, she may continue to pick up additional signs and “talk” to us in a combination of words and signs. Whatever she wants to say, and however she chooses to “say” it, we’re listening.

Adapted from original post at API Speaks, January 8th 2009.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Changing the Subject

Violet got a break from her role as model and muse last weekend when she spent the day with Grandma and Grandpa, freeing up both me and my dining room for a maternity photo shoot with my friend Leslie and her family. We set up the seamless next to Violet's play kitchen, which kept Leslie's almost four year old, Sienna, happy in between shots.

It was nothing like my sessions with Violet, who I couldn't pose if I wanted to. Typically, I wouldn't want to, because I prefer to capture her more candidly, but I'll admit it was nice (if a little nerve-wracking) to be able to give my subjects some direction. It was a great opportunity for me to work outside of my comfort zone, and so much fun to be a part of memorializing this family as they wait for their newest member to arrive!

Of course I couldn't resist shooting a few more frames of Sienna as we wrapped up the session - is this kid photogenic or what?

Thanks again, Leslie and family!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

For No-Cry Solutions for Common Parenting Challenges, Check with Elizabeth Pantley

I first encountered the gentle guidance of Elizabeth Pantley when I added The No-Cry Sleep Solution to the stack of books on baby sleep that grew beside my bed during Violet's infancy. As Violet grew, but the length of her sleep sessions did not, I thumbed desperately through its pages in search of a remedy to her restlessness. While in reading it I never discovered the silver bullet I'd hoped to find (I'm not sure there is such thing as a compassionate quick fix for sleep at those stages), what I did take away was what I really needed: reassurance that someday my baby would sleep longer than three quarters of an hour, without our resorting to strategies we weren't comfortable with.

Pantley's approach is the antithesis to perhaps better-known "baby-trainers" like Ferber and Weissbluth - worse yet, Ezzo - who are adamant that every baby is the same and should sleep on the same schedule. Instead, Pantley understands that babies are individuals, and should be respected and responded to as such, even at night. Since she also recognizes that prolonged sleep deprivation can be painful (putting it mildly) for parents, she proposes a plan for helping ease little ones into sleeping longer stretches in a way that the whole family can live with.

Fortunately for the child-centered set, Pantley has provided additional advice on tough topics in her other books: The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers; The No-Cry Potty Training Solution; The No-Cry Discipline Solution; and her latest - The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems. Each of these volumes adds a much-needed AP perspective to conventional parenting literature; I look forward to adding several to my own bookshelf.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Sleep Saga Goes On . . .

As I was dropping Violet off at daycare one morning last week, I responded to a fellow parent's innocent inquiry as to how I was doing with an honest "I'm tired." Violet, never a sound sleeper, has been even more restless the past few weeks, and it's taken a toll on Eric and me. After a year and half of living with a baby with high nighttime needs, we can withstand a significant sleep deprivation, but the holidays (and the four new teeth that came with them) seemed to amplify our issues. By the second week in January, we were back to the all-night nurse-a-thons we thought we'd left behind months ago.

Historically, Violet’s sleep patterns have been inconsistent enough to give us the occasional reprieve. A few nights of waking to nurse only once or twice could restore us sufficiently to withstand the less peaceful episodes that were sure to follow. But last week we realized we – more accurately I - wasn’t going to be able to ride this most recent regression out. Violet had appointed me her human pacifier, refusing to sleep without being latched on. Though I am more patient as a parent than I ever imagined I could be, I have my limits, and we had reached them.

So when this friendly father said "how are you?" I told him: I'm tired. The adorable, energetic toddler you just saw me waving goodbye to is up at least every hour these days. In my experience, such confessions are often met with a well-intentioned explanation of when and how the person I'm speaking with applied the cry-it-out technique with their own child, and how well they've been sleeping ever since. This conversation was no exception. But while I appreciate the suggestion, and I certainly envy the image of uninterrupted sleep, I'm still not comfortable with the concept of "cry it out."

Eric and I agreed we needed to do something differently, but weren’t willing to resort to letting Violet cry it out alone. Instead, we decided it was time for her to (partially) nightwean. At seventeen months, she no longer needs to nurse for nutrition overnight, and though we hated to remove that source of comfort, her increasing dependence on it was making the family bed unbearable. We were familiar with Dr. Jay Gordon’s gentle approach to nightweaning, and using it as a guide decided to designate the hours of 10 pm – 5 am as “time to sleep,” during which we would offer Violet comfort in any form except nursing.

For a few nights, I left the room when she woke, so as not to further frustrate her. Eric could soothe her in my absence by letting her lay on top of him, but we soon saw that while that was effective at settling her, ultimately we weren't making any progress at getting her to sleep unattached to one of us. Last night, we took the option of Dada's chest off the table, and the nightweaning began in earnest. Denied her two preferred sleep associations, Violet protested first angrily, and eventually with heartbreaking, hiccuping sobs. But as she struggled, we stayed beside her, rubbing her back, singing softly, whispering in her ear. Eventually she fell asleep, nestled between us.

We expect it to take Violet some time to adjust to this new nighttime routine, and we are committed to working through that with her. We also understand that nightweaning may not reduce her nightwaking (though certainly that is the hope). But even if she continues to wake frequently, nightweaning will allow us to identify other ways to soothe her back to sleep that will afford us more flexibility in our nighttime parenting. In the meantime, we'll accept any peacefully sleeping baby vibes sent our direction.

For inspiration:

Friday, January 09, 2009

One More Reason Why I Don’t Rely on the FDA: Melamine in US Infant Formula

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but I admit I don’t trust a lot of the information our government offers on matters of health and safety. Of course I’m not suggesting the FDA and the CDC are out to get us, but the evidence of industry’s significant influence over such agencies is disconcerting, to say the least. I’ll save my favorite example - the story of the conflicts of interest discovered in FDA and CDC vaccine advisory committees for its own post on another day; suffice it to say, my inquiry into the risks and benefits of anything I'm considering for my daughter NEVER ends with "according to the FDA . . ."

So when I heard yesterday that the FDA says the amount of the toxic chemical melamine detected in U.S. baby formula is safe, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Last summer, more than 50,000 Chinese babies were sickened after drinking formula contaminated with melamine. Shortly thereafter, the FDA stated that it wasn’t able to establish ANY level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that did not raise public health concerns. The agency also assured the American public that there was no known threat of contamination of formula manufactured by companies approved to sell formula in the U.S. That was the last anyone heard from the FDA on the subject until the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request requiring the FDA to disclose that it had found trace amounts of melamine in formula and nutritional supplements sold in the U.S. Consumer groups have questioned whether the information would ever have been released absent the FOIA request.

The FDA’s reticence on the issue hardly inspires confidence. Many Americans rely on government agencies like the FDA to protect them from harmful products, assuming that if it’s on the shelf it’s been approved by the FDA and so must be safe. Instead, the FDA seems to be sitting on information that may affect the most vulnerable among us. And the agency’s concurrent statement that the amounts detected in the U.S. formula were “trace amounts” which it considered to be “perfectly fine” for infants? Quite a departure from the agency’s original position that it could not identify any amount of melamine as safe for infant consumption. Color me skeptical.

Now that the word is out, the FDA appears to have been more forthcoming on the subject. Earlier this week, it revealed that melamine and byproduct cyanuric acid have now been detected in more containers of infant formula - twice as many as were reported in November. (Results of FDA testing for melamine in formula can be viewed here. Additionally, formula manufacturer Abbott Laboratories (makers of Similac) has also said that it detected trace levels of melamine in its formula. Whether the trace amounts of melamine discovered in any of these samples of formula would be harmful to a baby and how is uncertain, but I’m certainly not taking the FDA’s declaration that it is as the last word.

Melamine isn’t something I’d want to mess around with. A chemical commonly used in plastics and adhesives, it has been found in food products, usually added to increase nitrogen content which makes the protein content appear higher. For example, in the Chinese formula that made such news last summer, water was added to raw milk to increase volume, and melamine added to mask the lower protein content of the end product formula. Melamine can also get into food products through packaging or from a cleaning solution used on some food processing equipment. While no studies have been conducted on human subjects, animal tests demonstrate adverse health effects such as bladder stones and kidney stones which can lead to kidney failure and even death. Melamine has also been shown to have a carcinogenic effect on animals.

The levels of melamine in the Chinese formula that harmed so many children there were higher than those in the U.S. formula tested by the FDA (which the FDA believes was contaminated in the manufacturing process, rather than added intentionally), but it’s not clear to me how the FDA arrived at the conclusion that the levels in U.S. formula are safe for consumption by little bitty babies, especially with respect to long term effects. Hopefully more information will become available now that melamine is on the public’s radar. As to how reliable that information might be . . . I’ll be considering the source.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Monday, January 05, 2009

Catching Up

December seemed to blow through as quickly as the snowstorm that besieged Boise last night. Holiday preparation, travel, and the holidays themselves consumed us, leaving other activities like blogging (and posting the daily Flickr photo, and walking the dog . . . ) neglected in their wake. We're now working our way through all that was pushed aside the past few weeks - including photos of all the festivities. We managed to take the Monkey out for a long overdue stroll on Sunday, so there's hope for the rest. In the meantime, here's a shot from this year's holiday album:

Violet goes sledding.